Be grateful for what you have. Count your blessings. That was a constant message in my childhood. And I believe that I was more grateful than my counterparts. But as I grew older gratitude slipped away and so did joy and happiness. My life was work. The more I worked the more stuff I could buy. The happier I would be. I think a lot of people believe this. However, there’s nothing like a cancer diagnosis to help shuffle your priorities.
Over the last 12 months gratitude and I have become best friends. And honestly, I don’t think I could live my life without gratitude. I had a rare form of brain cancer that is incredibly rowdy because it likes to come back and jump around the body. Gratitude helps me tame the anxiety that comes with a rowdy cancer. When all of this first started, I was a mess. I was terrified. I had constant panic attacks. I would stop breathing and break out into a sweat. I would lose myself. One day I prayed for help and in between the spaces of prayer came the answer. Gratitude.
The practice of gratitude does several things. First, it snaps you into the present. When you take a deep breath and start chanting the things, people and places you are grateful for you step into the present. When I do my gratitude meditation chant, I look around and just start naming everything I see. I also go one step further, I say why I am grateful. For example, I am grateful for this chair because it is comfortable and supports me. Or I am grateful for Julie because she takes really good care of me when I am tired. The naming and the why are important. You are re-wiring your brain to look for the positive.
Secondly, gratitude heals. When you focus on what you have, you create joy. Gratitude is the gateway to joy. Joy creates happiness. Gratitude, joy and happiness cannot reside in the same space as fear, anxiety and depression. When you are afraid, anxious or depressed your mind, body and spirit cannot relax and heal. I believe we can heal from any disease. Just because we are broken doesn’t mean we cannot be whole. For me gratitude has been an important part of my healing journey.
And finally, when you practice gratitude you can stop anxiety and panic attacks. It did for me. Within two minutes of practicing gratitude my heart rate slows, my breath becomes still, and I find myself. Since I have started this practice, I rarely take my anxiety medication. I don’t need it. My gratitude meditations work faster. Practicing gratitude is good medicine for everybody. But if you’ve been diagnosed with a scary disease, lost a loved one, going through a divorce…anything that causes you distress, then practicing gratitude can be a lifeline.